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Coach Emily Osakwe: Silent discoverer of long jumpers

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Blessing Okagbare in a long jump event. Inset Coach Emily Osakwe who converted her from 400m to the jumps in 2001

Blessing Okagbare in a long jump event. Inset Coach Emily Osakwe who converted her from 400m to the jumps in 2001

‘I converted Okagbare from 400m to long jump in 2001′

After years of silence, the assistant head coach of athletics in Delta State, Mrs. Emily Osakwe, has opened up on how she laid the athletics foundation for Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor to reach the pinnacle of her career. But the coach regrets that majority of top Nigerian athletes, including Okagbare display ‘selfish’ attitude by refusing to acknowledge those who laid the foundation for their career. Osakwe is unhappy with the African and Commonwealth track queen (Okagbare), whom she accused of failing to ‘look back’ after many years she put her athletics career on the right lane.

The coach was part of Delta State athletics team to the All Comers athletics championship held at the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos on Wednesday, and she narrated how she converted ‘a young’ Okagbare from 400m race to the long and triple jumps in far back 2001.

“I am not claiming that I am Okagbare’s grassroots coach,” Osakwe told The Guardian. “But I was the person who straightened her career by converting her from 400m to the long and triple jumps. That was far back 2001 when we were preparing for the National School Sports in Abuja.

“In fact, I took Okagbare to the competition in Abuja and she won two gold medals in the long and triple jump. That was the main foundation of her long and triple jump, where she has excelled over the years. But sadly, Okagbare has not deemed it fit to give me a call one day since she became a super star. That is not good enough for an athlete of her status,” Osakwe stated.

In her active days as an athlete, fair-complexioned Emily Osakwe dominated the sprints (100m and 200m) as well as the long and triple jump at state and national level. She ruled in the then Mobil athletics championship and was crowned queen in the long jump event, when the University of Benin hosted the West Africa University Games. She later competed in the heptathlon for Nigeria event before quit in 1998 to begin her coaching career.

Since then, Mrs. Emily Osakwe has contributed her quota to Delta State success story in the National Sports Festival-from the Chief James Ibori’s administration to Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan’s regime. Her area of specialty is the sprint, long and triple jump.

Narrating her encounter with Okagbare in Asaba in 2001, coach Osakwe recalls: “Then, we were preparing for the National School Sports in Abuja and Okagbare and some other young athletes came from Sapele to compete for a place in the team. She (Okagbare) competed in the 400m even but she failed to make the list.

“All the other athletes who came with her from Sapele made the list and it would be difficult for Blessing to go back to Sapele that same evening. So, I decided to take her to my house. After we had our dinner, I engaged Okagbare in discussions revolving around athletics. As a coach, I could see in her great potential of a long jumper and I asked her if she could try the jumps (long or triple), since she couldn’t make the list in 400m. She nodded her head saying ok.

“By this time, I was still searching for female jumpers to be part of our team to the competition in Abuja. To cut the story short, Okagbare made some good jumps in our training the next morning and I decided to include her in the team. My intention then was just to encourage her and also see how good she will be in the jumps. But Okagbare turned out to be one of the star athletes at the end of the National School Sports championship in Abuja. She won the two gold medals in the long and triple jump. The two male jumpers I took to the competition, Blessed Ugumagu and Pius Emofese also won medals and I was very proud of them.

“Like I said earlier, Okagbare was doing 400m with her grassroots coach Daniel Etsebimino in Sapele before she came to Asaba in 2001 for that competition. I expected that such athlete should be able to look back and say oh, this is where the foundation of my long and triple jump began and this is the person behind it. She has not done so till today and I feel so disappointed with her. I was the first coach to handle Hope Ideh and I also produced Eze Godswill, who is now a triple jumper.

“When Okagbare won that bronze medal in long jump at Beijing 2008 Olympics Games, I was filled with joy. Since then, she has won more medals in the jumps than the sprint events. I expected her to really look back, but she has not. Even coach Daniel Etsebimino acknowledged it during one of his interviews that it was coach Emily Osakwe who converted Blessing Okagbare to long and triple jump. My only consolation is that fact that one of the athletes whom I converted to the jumps is doing so well and I will continue to wish Okagbare the best of luck. I looking forward to see Okagbare capture an Olympics gold medal, maybe, in Rio. I am very sure by the time the stadium in Asaba is fully completed, I will discover more jumpers for my state and the country,” coach Emily Osakwe stated.

Incidentally, Okagbare’s main successes globally have been in the long jump, winning bronze at the Beijing 2008 Olympics and silver (also long jump) and bronze (200m) medals at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow.

She was born in Sapele, Delta State and given her athletic physique; teachers and family encouraged her to take up sports. Initially, she played football as a teenager before she began to take an interest in track and field. She competed in the long jump, triple jump and high jump events at the Nigerian school championships and winning a medal in each. She was a triple jump bronze medallist at Abuja 2004 National Sports Festival.

Okagbare’s first international outing came at the 2006 World Junior Championships in Athletics, where she competed in the qualifying rounds of both the long and triple jump.

In May 2007, at the All-Africa Games trials in Lagos, she established a Nigerian record of 14.13m in the triple jump and went on to grab a silver medal in the long jump and finished fourth in the triple jump in Algiers.

Aside the bronze medal she won in long jump event at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, Okagbare won a gold medal also in the long jump at the African Championships in 2010.

In 2011, Okagbare concluded the season by winning three medals at the All Africa Games in Maputo, Mozambique, a silver in the 100m, gold in the long jump with a jump of 6.50m and was part of the Nigeria’s gold winning 4×100m team.

The year 2012 was a busy one for Okagbare. She jumped 6.97m in the long jump in Calabar during the Nigerian championship. She lost the 100m gold at the 2012 African Championships in Porto Novo, but won the long jump gold with a jump of 6.96m.

Interestingly, Okagbare opened her build up to this year’s Rio Olympics Games with an impressive performance in the Long Jump with a 4th place finish at the Drake Relays on April 29th in Des Moines, Iowa, USA.

Okagbare, who skipped the jumps for most parts of last season, recorded her best leap of 6.25m in her very last attempt. Her first jump was 6.24m (+1.0) and she fouled in her second attempt, jumping 5.97m in her third try and 6.20m in the fourth. A foul in the fifth ensured that she needed a strong finish in order to be close to the top 3.

With the Rio Olympics around the corner, many athletics followers are of the view that Okagbare will do herself big favour if she can concentrate more in the long jump and perhaps, the 200m, since she is finding it difficult to overcome those Jamaican ‘lioness’ in the 100m race.

With 6.25m as Okagbare’s first jump in 2016, her fans back home are praying for the athlete to hit or even surpass her Personal Best of 7.00m, which could fetch her a medal in Rio.


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